Bulls live to fight another day with 105-102 win over Cleveland

Perhaps that was the Bulls playoff game Saturday, an exciting 105-102 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Bulls leading by a dozen with just under five minutes remaining hung on down the stretch and fought off a J.R. Smith three at the buzzer to tie.

It put the Bulls back at .500 at 40-40. The Cavs are 56-24.

Perhaps indicative of this curious Bulls season, the Bulls finished 3-1 against the Cavaliers and 4-0 against the Raptors, the teams with the two best records in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls held off elimination from the playoffs, which remains at one loss or Indiana win.

Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 21 points. Cristiano Felicion had a career high 16 points. Nikola Mirotic had 13 points. Pau Gasol had 11 points and 12 rebounds. Derrick Rose had 10 points and Bobby Portis had six points and 10 rebounds.

LeBron James had 33 points, J.R. Smith had 24 points and Kevin Love 20 points and 13 rebounds.

E’Twaun Moore and Taj Gibson remained out, and coach Fred Hoiberg said it didn’t look good for either to make a return yet this regular season. So the Bulls went again with Nikola Mirotic to start for Gibson. It was a rough start for the Bulls, the failure again to get to loose balls leading to a pair of Cleveland threes and a 12-4 lead the first four minutes. Mike Dunleavy with a three and a three-point play pushed the Bulls within 21-16, but again the Cavs got a three after garnering an offensive rebound and led 26-18 with 2:54 in the first. Cristiano Felicio again gave the Bulls a good boost, highlighted by taking a defensive rebound and dribbling out three quarter court and throwing to Justin Holiday for a three point play to finish the quarter with the Bulls trailing 31-27.

The Bulls edged out in front to start the second quarter behind the continued motivated play of Felicio, who finished a pair of pick and roll plays from Aaron Brooks and played denying defense. That run enabled the Bulls to go ahead 35-33 before the Bulls lost Channing Frye for a pair of threes that led to a 45-39 Cavs lead. Mirotic made back to back threes to tie the game and then James took over going to basket strong and fanning out for jumpers. The Cavs led 52-47 before Mirotic closed the half with another three after James’ help block on Rose went directly to Mirotic. The Cavs led 54-52 at half. James had 14 and Kevin Love 13. Mirotic had 11 for the Bulls and Felicio eight.

Once again, the third quarter start proved problematic. The Bulls have frequently slumped after halftime, and again the offense ground down after a Gasol three-point play to open the half. Again it was the failure to secure a loose ball leading to a Smith three. He followed with another and then Love drove and slammed over Gasol for a three-point play and 67-57 lead with 7:43 left in the third. The Bulls, however, didn’t submit as Butler got rolling with a pair of threes in a 13-3 Bulls run to tie the game. A James jumper put the Cavs ahead 82-79 going into the fourth quarter.

The hustling reserves with Felicio and Holiday then supplied the fourth quarter energy to start after Doug McDermott started it with a three for an 89-84 Bulls lead with 9:09 left. The group with Felicio, Brooks and Bobby Portis continued to impress with Felicio finishing another pick and roll strong getting his career high and Brooks with a crossover drove for score and 95-84 lead with 6:25 left. The Bulls extended that to 97-84 and then kept the Cavs at bay with stout defense in a fallow period. Cleveland got within 99-93 with 1:57 left on a J. R. Smith three, but Butler drove hard for a three-point play and Felicio finishing for Gasol rolled in for a score and 104-96 Bulls lead with 1:15 left.